House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has decided to establish a special select committee to investigate the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Boehner had resisted creating the committee, fearing that it might hamper the investigation into the assault and the Obama administration's subsequent actions to describe the event as motivated by an anti-Islamic video, which turned out not to be true. Instead, five of the standing committees with jurisdiction were given responsibility for the inquiry. However, Boehner changed his mind over the past few days after a lawsuit filed by a conservative activist group forced the State Department to release additional relevant information regarding its actions -- information the administration had declined to provide to Congressional investigators.
A senior House Republican leadership aide described Boehner as furious about the administration's withholding of the information.
“Americans learned this week that the Obama administration is so intent on obstructing the truth about Benghazi that it is even willing to defy subpoenas issued by the standing committees of the People's House," Boehner said in a statement released Friday afternoon. "These revelations compel the House to take every possible action to ensure the American people have the truth about the terrorist attack on our consulate that killed four of our countrymen. In light of these new developments, the House will vote to establish a new select committee to investigate the attack, provide the necessary accountability, and ensure justice is finally served."
The leadership aide said Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., is being considered for the chairmanship of the special Benghazi committee.
Also Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry was subpoenaed by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa because of what the California Republican charges is the State Department's refusal to meet its legal obligation to provide information to Congress regarding the Benghazi attacks.
The subpoena compels Kerry to testify before Issa’s committee on May 21.
“The State Department’s response to the congressional investigation of the Benghazi attack has shown a disturbing disregard for the department’s legal obligations to Congress,” Issa wrote in a letter to Kerry, according to a press release issued by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Compliance with a subpoena for documents is not a game. Because your department is failing to meet its legal obligations, I am issuing a new subpoena to compel you to appear before the committee to answer questions about your agency’s response to the congressional investigation of the Benghazi attack.”
Reacting to Boehner's decision to create the select committee, Issa said he believes its creation will "shed fuller light on the truth."
Issa also said he still expects Kerry to testify before his panel.
"I support Speaker Boehner's decision and will work to share the insight we have learned at the Oversight Committee and encourage sources who have been in contact with our committee to also cooperate with the new select committee," he said.
Democrats said the Republicans' revived focus on Benghazi demonstrates their party's dearth of ideas and called the select committee a waste of taxpayer money and a clear election-year gambit designed to rev up the GOP's conservative base.
“Republicans are showing yet again that they have nothing to offer the middle class. Republicans care more about defending billionaires like the Koch brothers and trying to rekindle debunked right-wing conspiracy theories than raising the minimum wage or ensuring women receive equal pay for equal work," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
"While Republicans try to gin up yet another political food fight, Senate Democrats will remain focused on fostering economic growth for all hard-working Americans," he added.
A spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said only that her office had yet to be contacted by Boehner and the GOP leadership regarding the establishment of a select committee.
Pelosi's office noted that Boehner had previously rejected calls for a select committee from a vocal faction of his conference. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., has long advocated for the need for a special committee but earlier this month during an appearance on Fox News said he saw “no reason to break up all the work that's been done” by the other committees with jurisdiction on the issue.
Pelosi's office also highlighted a statement from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., earlier this month saying the military did everything it could reasonably do on that “chaotic night” in which four Americans died.
"I think I've pretty well been satisfied that given where the troops were, how quickly the thing all happened and how quickly it dissipated, we probably couldn't have done more than we did," McKeon told reporters, according to an AP story. "Now, we've made changes since then. We've got more Marine fast teams that we built up security around the world."
The AP also quoted him as saying that “at some point, when we run out of people to talk to, or we run out of people to talk to two or three times, at some point, we think we'll have as much of this story as we're going to get and move on.”
McKeon, appearing on Fox News Thursday, also publicly challenged the credibility of a former military intelligence official who testified Thursday that more should have been done to help Americans in the attack that night.
Susan Crabtree contributed to this report. This story was published at 12:35 p.m. and has been updated.